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The Heretic's Guide To Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations Paperback – December 2, 2011

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Paperback, December 2, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

From the Author

We humans are a bizarre lot because our ability to work together on complex endeavours - a skill that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom - can also operate in negative ways. For example, we can put a man on the moon, yet many couples who have committed to a partnership based on love, fidelity, trust, respect and mutual support, cannot so much as rearrange furniture without having a domestic dispute.

Why do some projects end up like domestic disputes, yet others that are infinitely more complicated succeed, and thus push the boundaries of what humanity is capable of? Can we learn something about what makes successful projects by focussing on (seemingly) trivial matters such as who does the dishes after dinner or who holds the remote control while watching TV? We believe so. Our book justifies this claim, and provides rigorous, field-tested ways to tackle such social complexity in organisations and projects.

We assert that the number one reason organisational initiatives fail is because they attempt to implement solutions without first developing a shared (or common) understanding of the problem. This leads to chaos, confusion and unhappy stakeholders. Yet even when these symptoms are recognised, the solutions that are applied generally hinder rather than help. Whilst there is substantial published research that offers insights and answers as to why this happens only truly nerdy people ever bother to read it. Consequently there is a gap between professional practice and research.

We've studied the work of many academics who have recognised and written about this. The problem is that these works challenge many widely accepted managerial practices. As a result these ideas have been rejected, ignored or considered outright heretical, and thus languish (largely unread) in journals.

We love heretical ideas - particularly when they support conclusions we have reached through our professional experiences. However we like readability even more - interesting ideas are no good if they can only be understood by PhDs. We believe such insights are best conveyed through stories and analogies that people can relate to and so we have written this book in an accessible, relaxed and conversational style.

From the Back Cover

When it comes to solving complex problems, we often perform elaborate rituals in the guise of best practices that promise a world of order, certainty, and control. But reality paints a far different picture, which practitioners are often reluctant to discuss. A witty yet rigorous journey through the seedy underbelly of organisational problem solving, The Heretic's Guide to Best Practices pinpoints the reasons why best practices don't work as advertised and what can be done about it.

"Hugely enjoyable, deeply reflective, and intensely practical. This book is about weaving human artistry and improvisation, with appropriate methods and technologies, in order to pool collective intelligence and wisdom under pressure." - Simon Buckingham Shum, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, UK

"This is a terrific piece of work: important, insightful, and very entertaining. Culmsee and Awati have produced a refreshing take on the problems that plague organisations... If you're trying deal with wicked problems in your organisation, then drop everything read this book." - Tim Van Gelder, Principal Consultant, Austhink Consulting

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 420 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse (December 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1462058531
  • ISBN-13: 978-1462058532
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,990,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Erica T on December 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
If you are a consultant, facilitator or problem solver in any capacity or aspire to be then you should read this book. The authors take you through problem definition, solutions, and tools using humorous examples. It's one of those "light bulb" books that I'm going to keep around to lend to clients that are facing ambiguous, complex problems and aren't sure how to begin to define, yet alone solve, these problems.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ben McMann on December 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is for people who are tired of their internal voice telling them there is a better way to work, but not being able to explain how. If you are sick of hearing "that's the way we do things around here", but don't have a good answer for how things should be, then this book is for you. Regardless of whether you are a CEO or an entry level front-line employee, the authors will help you see there are better ways to work with one another to address the ever growing nature of "wicked problems" we face in today's hyper-competitive business world.

The authors state, "A key factor that mainstream management ignores is that organizations consist of people, and that the smooth functioning of organizations depends critically on the commitments people make to each other. People will genuinely commit only to things they truly believe in. Consequently they have to be convinced of what they are committing to." Within organizations, communication is generally seen as a one-way push of information to employees. The main point of the book however, is that communication plays a deeper, less appreciated role in organizations: building shared understanding and commitment to action via collective deliberation - not a one way push of information.

Why is collective deliberation important? The authors argue individuals or groups can commit to something only after they understand it and feel that their contributions have been taken seriously. Collective deliberation is needed because organizational initiatives are collective efforts - and shared understanding and commitment to action must precede such efforts.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ruven Gotz on December 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
If you have ever thought "I can't believe that I'm being forced to use this methodology that is clearly wrong for this project", then you are a great candidate for this book. Between the two of them, Paul and Kailash have read every body-of-knowledge and methodology out there, and they are unsparing in their praise of what works, and in their criticism of where the BOKs fall apart.
With their unique style and deep understanding of systems project success and failure, they bring some lesser-known approaches and tools to bear that will help you to truly become a better business analyst or project manager. The best part is that they have taken some really arcane, sleep-inducing academic work and made it understandable and consumable by us front-liners who are just trying to get our jobs done.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Zubizarreta on October 4, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Multi-stakeholder facilitators, wicked problem mediators, listen up! This book is for everyone who cares about how people can work together more effectively, to address the most pressing challenges we are facing today. If you work in this field, I recommend you jump right in to the third section of the book, for some tremendously inspiring case studies of this groundbreaking approach in action.... and then go back and read the first two sections, as this is (at least!) three books in one...

The paradigm shift at the heart of part one: rather than "cookie cutter" approaches that are SPOZED to "work for all" (but never do!) we can work collaboratively to create custom solutions based on real participation from everyone involved. (Old-timers may remember that this is what the field of Organization Development once did, before being taken over by the "change management" corporate consultancies...) Culmsee and Awati make a brilliant case for this; a deceptively folksy intro, full of Dilbert and Aussie humor, segues into an in-depth exploration of the various sources of cognitive bias, a fascinating debunking of the PERT myth, and a close-up look at the challenges of moving from a bureaucratic to a post-bureaucratic organization...all building up to a whiz-bang weaving together of Rittel, Habermas, Ostrom, Winnicott, and Heifetz, as they articulate the need for creating "holding environments" that build adaptive capacity.

But wait, folks... that's just the preamble! : WHAT'S NEW HERE, is the high-tech support for taking real collaboration to scale: part two explores HOW we can create "holding environments" for building adaptive capacity, by using visual mapping practices, AND ALSO, by addressing issues of power. Again, no need to read all of this in order...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Murali Madhavan on January 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
"A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest."' C.S. Lewis

It is so with a management book: A management book that can only be enjoyed by executives is not a good management book in the slightest.

I am a non-executive. I am a teacher who teaches little kids. Still I have found `The Heretics's Guide to Best Practices' a thoroughly enjoyable book.

Surely, the book is about `The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations'. But that reality is not so different from managing complex problems in our personal lives. The difference is only in scale and scope. So don't get carried away by the title.

Paul and Kailash view "organisations as networks of commitments". They explain: We believe this phrase spells out an ideal of what organisations ought to be: a group of people working towards common, mutually agreed goals, via commitments that are made based on a shared understanding.

Thus, the book is about people and their problems and the way to effectively deal with them (rather than run away from them) so that human/organizational "wellbeing" is balanced and maintained.

The following peace chant (shanti mantra) can sum up the spirit of the "shared understanding" and the "shared commitment" the authors recommend as the condition for dealing with the complex/complicated/wicked problems that threaten us:

"Together may we be protected, Together may we be nourished, Together may we work with great energy, May our journey together be brilliant and effective, May there be no bad feelings between us. Peace, peace, peace."

But how can we get to chanting shanti mantra when we refuse even to see eye to eye about anything?
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